OBETZ, Ohio — Thursday is a big day at the World Cup for the Crew’s foreign contingent as three matches will go a long way toward determining which teams advance out of group play.
Midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, a silver medalist for Nigeria in the 2008 Olympics, hopes the Super Eagles rebound from an opening loss when they play Greece (0-1).
Meanwhile, Leandre Griffit's home nation France will need to regroup against Mexico after a scoreless draw with Uruguay.
“We have good players, but we’re a little bit confused right now,” he said. “You could see when we played Uruguay we had so many good players, but they don’t know where to play or they try something alone. It doesn’t work.”
Argentina would seem to be in the best position after its 1-0 win over Nigeria in Group B, but don’t tell defender Gino Padula that the match vs. South Korea (1-0) won’t be stressful.
“Every time Argentina plays there is pressure,” he said of the two-time champions. “If we lose in the semifinals everyone thinks we did not have a very good World Cup.”
Padula was pleased with the win over Nigeria, but could not get Ekpo to bite on a bet.
“He didn’t want to lose his money,” he said.
Ekpo said he was constantly ribbed by Padula and fellow Argentines, assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren and forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
“It’s not fair,” he joked. “They’re always on my ass. I will always support my team even if I’m not there [in South Africa]. [Padula] and Guillermo say Argentina is going to win by a very big margin against us.
“I told them they were going to be in for a big surprise that day but it’s not a question that we lost one-nil,” he added. “Our players had too much respect for Argentina. That’s what cost us the match.”
He thinks Nigeria’s fortunes will be decided in the 90 minutes against Greece.
“Even though Greece lost 2-0 [to South Korea] I still think they are the better team,” Ekpo said. “It will be a tough game for Nigeria, but I strongly hope we will carry through. It all boils down to this next game against Greece. If we beat Greece we will definitely get out of the group.”
Griffit is not so sure about his countrymen. He said the French seem to be at odds with their coach Raymond Domenech and allegations that surfaced several months ago about several players and their involvement with an underaged prostitute have taken a toll.
“We have some problems outside of football,” Griffit said. “We have some problems with the coach. Some players have so much activity away from football in the months before the World Cup that we have not yet found a way to play as a team.”
However, he’s not giving up on the Les Bleus.
“Four years ago we started the same way and we went to the Final so maybe we need a little luck on a goal the next game,” Griffit said. “If we lose this game we’re done. I think we’re going to win 1-nil or 2-nil. [Franck] Ribery and Thierry Henry are going to score.”
Padula is confident that Argentina will advance to the knockout round although a strong effort against Nigeria produced just one goal.
“If you watch the first games everybody played scared. They don’t want to lose,” he said. “It’s important the first game to get three points. If you lose the first game you have a lot of pressure on you.
“We could have won 3-, 4-0. I hope the team keeps playing like this,” Padula added. “I know they can play better but we have a very good team. If we win the next game we may have a chance to rest some players the last game. We should beat South Korea and Greece.”
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